Watcher in the Water

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Watcher in the Water
Tolkien's legendarium character
Book illustration by artist John Howe.
Race Unknown
Book(s) The Return of the Shadow
The Fellowship of the Ring

The Watcher in the Water is a fictional creature in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium; it appears in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of The Lord of the Rings.[1] Lurking in a lake beneath the western walls of the dwarf-realm Moria, it is said to have appeared after the damming of the river Sirannon,[1] and was first recorded by Balin's dwarf company 30 or so years before the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring. The origins of the creature are not described in Tolkien's works, but writers have compared it to squids, the legendary kraken, and even to Tolkien's dragons.


In The Lord of the Rings, while the Fellowship of the Ring approach Mount Doom to complete its quest of destroying the One Ring made by the Dark Lord Sauron, Gandalf is forced to decide which path to take: over the mountain of Caradhras through the Redhorn Gate, or through Moria, to the Dimrill Gate. At Aragorn's insistence they first try the mountain pass, but the weather proves too severe, and the Fellowship instead approach the Doors of Durin, beside which the Watcher lived in a lake. When Boromir disturbs the water, the Watcher seizes Frodo with a long, pale-green, luminous, fingered tentacle, succeeded by twenty more. The Company rescue Frodo and retreat into Moria, and the Watcher seals the Doors shut. [1] As Gandalf commented, "Something has crept or been driven out of the dark water under the mountains. There are older and fouler things than orcs in the deep places of the world."[1]

Later, the Fellowship find the Book of Mazarbul, a record of the dwarf Balin's failed expedition to reclaim Moria, [1][2] wherein a scribe relates: "We cannot get out. We cannot get out. They [the Orcs] have taken the Bridge and second hall. Frár, Lóni and Náli fell there ... went five days ago ... the pool is up to the wall at Westgate. The Watcher in the Water took Óin. We cannot get out. The end comes ... drums, drums in the deep ... they are coming."[2]


The "Watcher in the Water", or 'the Watcher' for short, is the only name Tolkien gave to this creature in the The Lord of the Rings, and in any of his writings.[2][3]

Concept and creation[edit]

An early version of the Fellowship's encounter with the Watcher is found in The Return of the Shadow, part of The History of Middle-earth series, wherein the textual development of Tolkien's Middle-earth-related fantasy is discussed and analyzed by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien. This particular volume focuses upon The Lord of the Rings.

The episode is found in the chapter "The Mines of Moria", equivalent to "A Journey in the Dark" in The Fellowship of the Ring. Tolkien's account of the creature at this stage is practically the same as in the final published version, except for the names of other characters. Its emergence, physical appearance, abilities, attack on the Fellowship, and rupture of the Moria Gate are already present in his initial writings.[4]

Since Tolkien never explicitly stated what the creature is, others have felt free to speculate on its identity and origins. In A Tolkien Bestiary, David Day calls the Watcher a kraken; but implies differences between the kraken of Scandinavian folklore and the Watcher in the Water.[5] Tolkien never called the Watcher a kraken nor described the presence of krakens in Middle-earth.[6] In The Complete Tolkien Companion, J. E. A. Tyler postulates the Watcher was a cold-drake: "...these dragons rely on their strength and speed alone (the creature that attacked the Ring-bearer near the Lake of Moria may have been one of these)."[7] Another writer compared it to squids.[6]

Essayist Allison Harl speculates that the Watcher may be a kraken created and bred by Morgoth in Utumno [8] and that Watcher in the Water represents itself as a gatekeeper whose goal, in the context of the archetypal journey, is to guard the Doors of Durin keeping the heroes from entering into new territory, psychologically or spiritually. This "guardian theory" has also been theorised by other writers such as Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers.[8][9]

Portrayal in adaptations[edit]

The Watcher in the Water in Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring.

The Watcher in the Water appears in both film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings: Ralph Bakshi's animated The Lord of the Rings (1978) and Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). Bakshi's work follows the book faithfully for this sequence, with only the Watcher's tentacles seen. After Sam frees Frodo from its clutches, Boromir hacks at its tentacles.[citation needed] In Jackson's adaptation, the Watcher is portrayed as a colossal, giant squid-like monster with a gaping mouth and rows of sharp teeth. Here, too, it grabs Frodo with its tentacles as described in the book, and reaches for the rest of the Fellowship following Frodo's rescue. Peter Jackson revealed in the commentaries that the original idea was to have Bill the Pony dragged under water by the Watcher; but this was changed.[10] In the DVD commentaries and production diaries, Jackson and his team explain that in their conception, the "Nameless Things" which gnaw tunnels beneath Moria (mentioned in the book by Gandalf) are more creatures like the Watcher. Originally, they planned to have an even longer version of the flashback in which Gandalf recounts his fight with the Balrog in Moria; this flashback would reveal that the underground lake at the bottom of the abyss cushioned the fall of Gandalf and the Balrog, who then (as in the book) continue to fight. In the process, this would scare away multiple Watchers/Nameless Things. The entire sequence was ultimately cut for time and budgetary constraints, though concept art still exists on the DVD. Moreover, in the concept art gallery feature on the DVD, John Howe and Alan Lee explain that the Watcher was one of the most difficult creatures to design, because it lacked virtually any description.

The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game by Games Workshop, based on Jackson's film, calls the Watcher in the Water the "Guardian of the Doors of Durin".[11] Due to the popularity of the creature several other items depicting the Watcher were released after the film.[12][13]

The Watcher made its first appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring video game and has since appeared in several games. The Watcher is used as a power hero purchased by points in Battle for Middle-earth II, but it makes no formal appearance.[14] The Watcher drops rare First Age weapons in The Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria, requiring a 12-man raid to beat it.[15]

The Watcher in the Water also appears in the logo at the start of the Battle for Middle-earth games franchise in front of the Moria Gate that leads to the Mines of Moria and subsequently the Balrog. It has since appeared in many other different Lord of the Rings games.[16]

Three Watchers in the Water act as mini-bosses for the Moria area in Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. The canonical Watcher is fought upon reaching the Doors of Durin; the other two as bonus bosses encountered on a side-path.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "A Journey in the Dark", ISBN 0-395-08254-4  Pg. 298-302
  2. ^ a b c Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm", ISBN 0-395-08254-4  Pg. 313-323
  3. ^ Foster, Robert (2001). The Complete Guide to Middle-earth (Revised ed.). Del Rey. ISBN 0-345-44976-2. 
  4. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1988), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Return of the Shadow, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, "The Mines of Moria", ISBN 0-395-49863-5 
  5. ^ Day, David (1995). A Tolkien Bestiary. Gramercy. ISBN 0-517-12077-1. 
  6. ^ a b Fisher, Mark (2002). "Encyclopedia of Arda: Watcher in the Water". Mark Fisher. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  7. ^ Tyler, J. E. A. (2002). The Complete Tolkien Companion (Third Revised ed.). Pan Books. ISBN 0-330-41165-9. 
  8. ^ a b Alison Harl (Spring–Summer 2007). "The monstrosity of the gaze: critical problems with a film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings". bBNET (bBNET). p. 8. Retrieved 2008-04-16. [dead link]
  9. ^ Campbell, Joseph & Moyers, Bill (October 9, 2001). "Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth DVD". (spoken). Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  10. ^ The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; Scene: "A Journey in the Dark"
  11. ^ "Guardian of the Doors of Durin: Making the Watcher in the Water". Games Workshop Limited. 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  12. ^ "'The Watcher in the Water' Medallion No. 8". Retrieved 2008-04-13. 
  13. ^ "The Watcher In The Water Statue-The Lord Of The Rings-Polystone Statue (Item No. 8707R)". Retrieved 2008-04-13. 
  14. ^ BFME2 Gameplay
  15. ^ Know Your LotRO Lore: The Watcher in the Water
  16. ^ Battle for Middle-earth gameplay, Electronic Arts games